The ADVANCE Act reaffirms the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) decision to impose less stringent licensing requirements for fusion systems than for fission systems in the near future.

President Joe Biden signed a bill on Tuesday that codifies the regulation of fusion energy systems under the rules used for particle accelerators, rather than subjecting them to the more extensive regulations governing fission reactors. determination is part of ADVANCE Act, which Congress passed last month as an amendment to an unrelated fire protection bill.

The law supports the decision of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to classify radioactive materials associated with nuclear fusion as “By-product material”, This poses fewer regulatory requirements than the “special nuclear material” from fission reactors, such as uranium or plutonium, which can easily be used in weapons. The term “byproduct” refers to how the material is made radioactive by exposure to radiation, such as that produced by a particle accelerator.

NRC staff is currently working to expand the byproducts framework to cover fusion systems and plan to publish a draft rule. until March 2025.

According to 2023 NRC Staff Report In evaluating various regulatory options, “short-term” fusion plants differ from fission plants in that they cannot cause large doses of radiation to workers or the public in the event of accidents and cannot be easily modified to produce special nuclear materials that pose a risk of proliferation. In addition, unlike the uncontrolled reactions that can occur in fusion reactors, these fusion systems would not require intervention to stop the production of energy and radioactive material.

The NRC defined near-future fusion systems as those currently being considered for use into the 2030s and concluded that they are unlikely to pose risks that warrant treatment under the “use” facilities that apply to fission reactors. However, they recommended creating a hybrid framework to determine when a fusion energy system can be considered a use facility and how it should be regulated. The commissioners ultimately concluded that it will not. directed Staff should use the byproduct material framework for fusion systems rather than the hybrid approach, while requesting to be notified if fusion systems that are identified over the long term pose additional hazards that require further action.

The merger provision in the ADVANCE Act takes up the wording of the bipartisan Fusion Energy Act, first introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Lori Trahan (D-MA) and in the Senate by Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA). Press release, Padilla said the bill creates “clear regulatory authority for the expansion of American commercial fusion energy facilities and for promoting fusion investment.”

The rest of the ADVANCE Act focuses on accelerating the development of new fission reactors. For example, it will encourage companies to develop fission reactors by reducing the cost of the advanced nuclear reactor application process and will offer cash prizes to the first advanced reactors to meet certain criteria and receive a license.

“With the passage of the ADVANCE Act, we have reached a milestone for the future of nuclear energy here in America,” said Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) in a Press release. “This is the result of years of work to build broad consensus on the benefits of modern nuclear reactors for our power grid, our economy and our environment.”

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